America's morality usually evolves slowly -- but rapid public embrace of equality for gays has been amazing. Almost overnight, centuries of stigma and hostility are being discarded. Full human rights for the once-outcast minority seem inevitable.
A half-century ago, it was a felony to be gay. West Virginians caught in same-sex involvement were sentenced to the old stone prison at Moundsville under archaic "sodomy" prohibitions. But state laws were updated in the 1970s, legalizing gay sex. Later U.S. Supreme Court rulings spread the legality nationwide.
The past few years have brought relentless momentum for gay marriage -- although Republicans and fundamentalists resisted fiercely. They passed bans on same-sex wedlock in around 30 states.
In last fall's election, voters in three states -- Maine, Maryland and Washington -- approved gay marriage, making a total of nine states where it is legal. A dozen others have approved gay civil unions, almost equal to marriage.
The U.S. Supreme Court is to rule in June on whether to void the Republican-passed Defense of Marriage Act, a federal statute against gay wedlock. Regardless of how the high court decides, the tide of history is rolling for equality.
We often say West Virginia, now mostly a rural "red state," probably will be the last place in America to treat gays fairly. That prediction was reinforced Tuesday by a news report saying only three Democrats in the U.S. Senate -- including West Virginia's Joe Manchin -- have failed to endorse same-sex marriage.
Here's another sign that West Virginia lags behind America: Senate and House bills before the Legislature would have expanded to state Human Rights Act to protect gays from being evicted from apartments or fired from jobs, just because of their orientation. However, neither chamber passed the proposal before "crossover day," the final day for approval by one body.
Although that deadline was missed, it's still possible to amend the bill onto a passed bill dealing with the same section of State Code. We hope such a revival occurs. If not, we hope the proposal returns, session after session, until it succeeds -- as it has in most of the United States.
America's culture evolves steadily toward more equality and compassionate fairness. History shows the constant retreat of old taboos and prejudices. Decade after decade, bigotry is relegated to yesteryear. This trend favors the Democratic Party, which champions human rights.
It's sad that West Virginia ranks with the hidebound past, while the rest of the country advances.